Friday, November 6, 2009

Hunger Banquet and Oxfam

Last night I went to an Oxfam Hunger Banquet that was held on campus. Oxfam is a confederation of 14 organizations that work in over 70 countries to fight poverty. The Hunger Banquet is an event that happens with the intention of teaching people about the unequal distribution of food resources around the world.

Basically, the way that it works is that when people enter they draw a ticket that has an income class, as well as name and information of a person somewhere on the planet. The income levels are high, middle, and low, and the descriptions briefly talk about themselves, their families, and their financial situation. I was middle income, and had the following card:

I am Deng

I live in Vietnam on a very small farm. During times of drought I must survive on loans from local moneylenders who charge 30 to 40 percent interest per month.

It started out talking a little bit about the distribution of wealth and resources around the world - the distribution of tickets at the event mirrored the distribution worldwide. 15% of the people had 'high income' tickets, and were seated at tables with white tablecloths. In the real world, those of us who fall into the 15% consume approximately 70% of the world's grain - mostly through grain-fed meats. They were served 3 course meals, with water and ice tea, salad, pasta, and dessert.

25% of us were 'middle income' and were seated in chairs around the edges. Most people in the world who are considered middle-income have no property, and education is not that common. We were given water in a cooler and got to eat rice and beans from a buffet line (those of us at the end got mostly rice, because the people in the front ate most of the beans.)

Everyone else (approximately 60% of the group) represented the 'low income' group, and sat on the floor. They were given a few large trays of rice, some brown water, and cups as their only utensils.

As they talked about the different groups what blew my mind was what was considered 'high' and 'middle' income. Worldwide, anyone who makes over $9,000 a year is considered high income. I'd always considered my family more or less middle class as I was growing up, but on the worldwide scale, we were ridiculously high income.

Middle income is anyone from $9,000 a year down to $900 a year. $900! I made more than that as a counselor at Texlake! I knew that the distribution of wealth and resources was out of whack, but I didn't realize that someone who made $1000 would be considered pretty solidly middle income. It kind of blows your mind.

Did you know a child dies every 2.9 seconds due to hunger? How many seconds have passed since you've started reading this? And that women living in poor countries are 250 times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in rich countries? TWO HUNDRED FIFTY TIMES. It's kind of ridiculous.

One of the things that I really liked about tonight was that it was more than just "this is what's going on in the world" - there was also information for action. Representatives from local organizations that fight hunger such as the LA Foodbank were there to talk about how they need help. They gave information on the "Feed the Hungry" that happens on campus every Tuesday afternoon where you can come make sandwiches and then go deliver them. And entry to the event was a $2 donation that goes straight to Oxfam.

So... yeah. That was my evening. And now that I'm done with my preaching, I'll leave a little video for someone else to do a brief 1:08 of proselytizing and then be done!

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